Measuring the Thermal Expansion of Three Metals

Patrick McAtee | Thermodynamics | 11 October 2010

Purpose In this lab, the theory of thermal expansion of metal was tested. Before heat was even developed as a concept, the thermal expansion of materials was observed by diligent natural philosophers who were trying to figure out what heat was. As it turned out, early concepts of heat involved an invisible, massless fluid, called Pholgiston which flowed into materials when they were heated and then back out of them when combusted or cooled [1]. Now, it is thought that as a substance is heated, the particles which make up the substance obtain a greater average separation because they are becoming more energetic, thus the material expands. Thermal expansivity for each substance is different and based on a constant unique to each substance, usually denoted as E. The equation relating the change in length to the temperature is given by




which works fine for near room temperature conditions. Otherwise, an integral must be taken. Equation 1 can be manipulated to yield alpha directly:

( (
Materials y y y y y y PASCO Model TD-8558A Thermal Expansion Apparatus Ruler Steam generator (with tubing) Small container to collect condensed water One steel rod, one copper rod, one aluminum rod Multimeter

Method First, the PASCO Thermal Expansion Apparatus was laid on a table. A metal rod was laid in the apparatus. The length of the metal rod was taken and recorded. A steam generator was hooked up, via tubing, to one end of the metal rod. Under the side of the apparatus which was connected to the steam generator a book was laid so that water condensing inside the metal rod would leak out. A thermistor was attached to the thermistor lug. Then, the thermistor was plugged into the multimeter via banana connectors. From here, the steam generator was filled with water and turned on. Once the steam had heated up the tube and the multimeter showed

a near constant reading for the ohms, the value was recorded from the multimeter. This procedure is followed for each metal rod.

Data Steel Ohms 115,700 Ohms (initial) 6390 Ohms Change in Length 0 (initial) 0.35 Millimeters Initial Length 745 Millimeters

Aluminum Ohms 109,800 Ohms (initial) 6490 Ohms Change in Length 0 (initial) 0.79 Millimeters Initial Length 745 Millimeters

Copper Ohms 107,200 Ohms (initial) 6400 Ohms Change in Length 0 (initial) 0.165 Millimeters Initial Length 745 Millimeters

Results First, the ohm readings must be converted in temperatures, based on the data given in a table on Instruction Manual and Experiment Guide for the PASCO scientific Model TD 8558A [2]. From the table: Copper: 107,200 Ohms -> ~23.7r Celsius 6,400 Ohms -> ~95.6r Celsius Aluminum: 109,800 Ohms -> ~23r Celsius 6,490 Ohms -> ~95.6r Celsius

Steel: 115,700 Ohms -> ~21.5r Celsius 6,390 Ohms -> ~95.8r Celsius From here, the given and measured values can be plugged into equation (2) and solved. The results are Metal Steel Aluminum Copper Experimental Result (10^-6/Cr) 6.32 14.6 3.08 Actual (10^-6/Cr) [3] 11 24 17

Analysis A quick glance at the table just above shows that the experimental results are off by a factor of two for the steel and the aluminum, while for the copper, the value is nowhere near the accepted value. For the steel and the aluminum, the error may be in the equipment used, as there was little insulation. Not having the PASCO apparatus insulated well enough would lead to dramatic loss of heat making the measurements vaguely similar to the actual at best, or worthless at worst. However, since the same set-up was used for the copper as for the steel and aluminum, it is more likely that the aluminum and steel were done right, while there was some oversight in the set-up of the copper. Maybe the ohmmeter had not stabilized by the time the reading for the copper was taken; however, this is unlikely because the observer waited ten seconds at least to see if it changed at all before noting the reading. One other factor is possible, and it involves an oversight in the physics. Since the thermistor was located in the middle of the rod, it was showing the temperature at that point, which may have merely been an average temperature of the entire rod. At the end open to the air, the temperature would be colder, and nearer the steam generator it would be warmer. Thus, the rod probably did not expand to the length it would under ideal conditions, accounting for at least some, if not a good portion of error involved. However, it may be a good approximation to assume that the temperature averages out over the length of the rod, thus it may be a good enough approximation to the ideal state to not have it insulated fully.

Conclusion After measuring the linear thermal expansivity of three metals, it can be concluded that unless major error in the procedure was undertaken by the experimenter, much error can be attributed to the set-up itself and thus it should be recommended to future experimenters to come up with solutions to the problems presented in this paper to receive better results. To get near the accepted result would take at least one major modification in the set-up most likely involving insulation, though there may be other less obvious solutions.

[1] James Bryan Conant, ed. The Overthrow of Phlogiston Theory: The Chemical Revolution of 1775 1789. Cambridge: Harvard University Press (1950), 14. [2] Available online at: [3]

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